Why Rating Books Is Not As Simple As You Think


If you’re well versed in Goodreads, you’re undoubtedly familiar with the five star rating method. There are few other systems for the masses out there, but most all of them include some numerical or star value to determine its fate. But, have you ever thought about what that simple five star rating selection means?

There are so many variables in rating a book, but the most basic level of rating comes down to personal enjoyment. That makes perfect sense, because honestly, there are just too many factors involved, and all that really matters is whether or not they’re good according to you. If you’re anything like us though, sometimes it’s a little more complicated than personal enjoyment.

Time and again we’ve found ourselves discussing the difficulty of checking off stars. For example, have you ever read a book that wasn’t exactly to your personal liking, but you fully appreciated? Seabiscuit and Stoner are some recent reads that come to mind that fit right into this category. I really enjoyed reading them and I see they are good, but they didn’t hit that personal level of enjoyment necessarily. Does that mean they lose a star, or drop a point? No! Not at all!

Have you ever looked through your list of 4 star books? Do you think that list is representative of your reading life, or of you as a person? Four stars loosely indicates that “I loved this book,” but maybe won’t classify as one of my top five favorites necessarily. Seabiscuit is impeccably researched and beautifully written, but also a little dense because its main topic. The development of automobiles in our country is synonymous with the birth of horse racing, and is an incredible piece of history to read. I truly loved it and have found myself retelling pieces of the history I’ve learned from it. Yet, it wasn’t quite as immersive as I’d hoped and not one I’d recommend to just anyone. Stoner was a meticulously written American classic with the most flawless structure and effortless prose I’ve seen to date. Yet, the story was a little strange and left me feeling flustered, wondering why certain things happened, rooting for the good guy and never really seeing him win. In their own right, those are five star books. You see how this can get a little complicated?

Compare those with Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, and Tartt’s The Secret History. They were all five star books between the two of us, and hit all the personal enjoyment levels, beautiful writing, and atmosphere we yearn for. But it isn’t really fair to compare any of these books, because how can you put such complex concepts into a box, albeit a very alluring and simple one, and ultimately define it? Well, we do, but really, you cannot, there is just so much to consider!

Books are products of people, of brilliant and beautiful minds, of art and experience and time—so much time. We instantly divide them into subcategories via genres, age appropriateness, and so on. Yet, these books are genuine extensions of people and their collective experience, lives, and most inner selves. At this point you might be wondering what the point of all this is, and well, it’s just to encourage you to think a little more about the value of the book you’ve just finished, before hitting that star rating and determining the book’s fate. Sometimes it will be just that easy, other times it will feel impossible. Over the last year, I’ve actually not rated books more times than not, and other times I’ll go back to it once I’ve had time to process it all.

If spreadsheets are your thing, maybe deeming a book worthwhile will do the trick, or maybe just bad, good, or really good. The thing is, the dichotomy between literature and reviews, or ratings, is increasingly large and complicated. I’ll never be the spreadsheet time. I need simple and effective, and I’ll keep using my beloved Goodreads to keep track of it all for me, at least for now. I would love to hear what works for you if you move beyond the box and expand your thinking, so be sure to comment below!

Rikki Rivera2 Comments